US lawmakers have grilled the contractors behind the troubled Obamacare website as Republicans attacked what they dubbed “one of the biggest IT disasters in government history.”
President Barack Obama's Republican opponents have long opposed his flagship health insurance reform, and have gleefully seized on the failed launch of its online sign-up page.
Executives from firms contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services said the site's debut had been hit by technical complexities and an overwhelming response by consumers.
But they also testified yesterday that, while ideally there should have been months of testing before launching such a complex system, HHS waited just two weeks before taking the website live on October 1.
“It would have been better to have more time," Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of contractor CGI Federal, admitted to House of Representatives members in a testy hearing.
Andrew Slavitt, group vice president of contractor Optum, said the website's dry run only began in mid-September, adding, “Ideally, integrated testing would have occurred well before that date.”
Even as they and others testified that many initial technical glitches they encountered have been resolved, lawmakers vented their anger over the deeply embarrassing rollout.
“This is not about blame, it's about accountability, transparency and fairness for the American public,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, who said the problems are symptomatic of broader difficulties with the law.
“The broken promises are many,” he said.
Upton said that in the months before the online debut, contractors and officials “looked us in the eye and assured us repeatedly that everything was on track -- except that it wasn't.”
Fellow Republican Joe Pitts went further, decrying the botched rollout as “one of the biggest IT disasters in government history.”
Obama is facing criticism for failures stemming from the debut of the site – Healthcare.gov – through which millions of Americans are expected to buy insurance.
Consumers have had trouble signing on, getting accurate cost estimates, and completing enrollment.
With the problems under the microscope, the White House moved to clear up confusion about the law.
Obamacare requires most Americans to have health insurance from 2014 or face a fine, but the White House said it will give an extra six weeks, until March 31, to obtain insurance before facing the penalty.